Tjatjarag: Op op op op oppan Mangnam Style

2012-12-23 10:00

Watching President Jacob Zuma in action at the governing ANC’s 53rd national elective conference this week was like watching Psy doing Gangnam Style: an unpredictable phenomenon that got us all swept up in its infectious spirit.

It was all an op op op op but for Messrs Tokyo Sexwale, Mathews Phosa and Paul Mashatile, who were ushered off the party’s high command and into the political wilderness.

Zumnam Style is to take a song and wield it like a weapon. Except this time, the president book-ended the conference by singing a different tune.

“Inde’lendlela esiyihambayo/ Watsh’uMandela kubalendeli bakhe/ Wathi sodibana ngeFreedom Day (The road we are travelling is long/ Mandela said/ He said we will meet on Freedom Day).”

The adapted hymn was quite different to his usual injunction to bring me my machine gun, a clever channelling of the almost universal love for Nelson Mandela to create unity.

At the Polokwane conference in 2007, Zuma needed a machine gun and his militance, which he wielded well to pull his shock troop youth behind him and to create a counternarrative to the snooty intellectualism of former ANC president Thabo Mbeki and his lieutenants.

For most of his first term, he egg-danced around economic policy, but this time he personally oversaw the removal of the term ‘nationalisation’ from any conference resolution documents, reported Business Day.

It’s gone – like ex-ANC Youth League president Julius Malema. And the markets are placated; the rand strengthening; the JSE heading north.

It was like watching a political masterclass: how a leader can transmogrify before your eyes as a carefully laid political plan played out.

The appointment of Cyril Ramaphosa was part of the Zuma master plan and it immediately achieved the goal of extracting the radicalism from the ANC and placing the National Development Plan at the centre of economic policy.

The economics cluster ministers, including Trade Minister Rob Davies and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, are on the NEC, as is the former Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni.

With no need for his machine gun and with a comfortable second term tucked under his belt, the president morphed into a statesman. By Friday morning, suited in grey and a fine red tie (and out of his gangsta ANC leather jacket), Zuma was magnanimous.

His deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, will stay in office and then go to head up the ANC’s political school, which is conveniently headquartered in the Free State.

The only thing you can plot there is a plot, though Motlanthe has always wanted to do the cadre development work of the ANC.

As the words to Psy’s summer hit say: “I’m a guy who knows a thing, a thing or two.”

The ANC is clever and it has self-corrected throughout its history.

It did so again this time, giving Zuma his second term, but also building safety nets around him so that the party is not so highly influenced by faux radicalism to move it from the left of centre position it feels most comfortable in.

The conference resolutions are replete with anti-corruption measures.

No senior municipal managers will be allowed to hold political office, there will be an Integrity Commission styled on the Chinese Communist Party’s; the Constitution has been changed to automatically expel members found guilty of graft.

It won’t apply retrospectively, but it is an important constitutional amendment for the future.

And the strong role of prayer at the conference (“Viva God, Viva!” was a popular call) suggested an attempt to find a moral centre.

Amidst all the clever political footwork, sat the elephant in the room.

The president is hopelessly conflicted between word and deed. It was breath-taking to hear him say: “If as a cadre you are not politically clear, you will think government is there to enrich yourself?.?.?.”

The other story of Zumnam Style is of massive self-enrichment and concentric circles of patronage.

The cynicism of the conference’s corruption crusade simply made me want to Psy.

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